The Herzegovina region represents a charming sub-Mediterranean component of the country that sits in the heart of the mountain range of the Dinaric Alps. Herzegovina is also included in the country’s official name and this will probably lead many people to the conclusion that there is a political distinction in there somewhere.
On the contrary, Herzegovina shares its political struggles with Bosnia. Besides the unfortunate legacy of the (relatively) recent war that ended 25 years ago, its specificity lies in its distinct geography as well as in an original local form of patriotism tied to the Herzegovinian name.
Mostar lies in the place that naturally connects the Adriatic coast and hinterland of Bosnia. The city thrives with a charming combination of karst topography and an abundance of watercourses. Different historic moments have staked their claim to the city and sculpted Mostar in a sense that wins the affection of visitors from New Zealand to Canada, and from Chile to Japan.
There are many reasons why everybody should firstly consider, and then make the decision to put Mostar on their bucket list. We will mention 10 and leave it up to you to update the list once you visit Mostar. So, check it out:
The goldsmith’s street in the heart of Mostar’s Old Town. Former craft workshops were mostly turned into souvenir and gift shops, even though some of them are preserving the old tradition offering real handmade stuff (in addition to imported, manufactured items of course). During the season’s peak this street is extremely busy and it is this empty only in the early morning hours.
For the last decade, Mostar has been incorporated in most of the tourist routes. It would be hard to find any prominent tour operator covering the Balkans that doesn’t offer Mostar in its itineraries. Mostar lies halfway between Sarajevo (BiH), Dubrovnik, and Split (Croatia). Just 130 km and roughly 2h – 2h 15min of an easy and comfortable ride will take you to Mostar from each of these frequently visited and highly popular destinations. The Bay of Kotor, which is also a popular destination with its marina and airport, is not far away.
A variety of options are available once you’re in the mentioned places, either taking a bus ride, renting a car, or booking a tour. The latter one stands as one of the most popular choices since it covers cool stops in the wider Herzegovina region. You could choose either the one-day trips from Split, Dubrovnik, or Kotor to Sarajevo, or two-day options with the overnight in Mostar. Whatever you set your mind to, Mostar will be impossible to avoid even if you haven’t originally planned to visit it.
The extensive connecting flights of Sarajevo, Split and Dubrovnik airports offer good and cheap deals.
Bosnia and Herzegovina as a country bears the epithet of the place where East meets West and vice versa. A destination where Orient meets Occident, where Islam meets all of the three major branches of Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox), and where Jewish influence played a significant role in the past.
Being an unofficial capital of the Herzegovina region, Mostar will show you how three Abrahamic religions and their traditions lived next to each other for the last centuries. Mostar is the most charming place amongst the 65 in the country where we see at least three (four in Mostar) different religious buildings relatively close to each other. Mostar is also the place wherein one street architectural style converts from authentic Ottoman-Mediterranean to Austro-Hungarian to Yugoslav brutalist. Like you’re jumping back and forth from the 16th to 19th or 20th century. Even if you’re not into cultural diversities when traveling, Mostar’s specificities will spark your interest.
The view on Hajji Kurt or Tanner’s mosque and St. Peter and Paul Church. The first was built during the golden period of the Ottoman rule in Mostar, while the latter one was built 12 years before Mostar fell under the influence of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Mostar is one of those places where it is possible to hear at the same time Roman-Catholic and Orthodox church bells, and a Muezzin’s call to prayer from many local mosques.
At the outskirts of the city, in the Blagaj settlement, the monumental residence of the medieval ruler of Herzegovina sits at the top of the hill. The place of construction was purposefully chosen, for its defensive and strategic advantages. The fortress of Herzog Stephen (bos. Stjepan) nowadays simply known as Stjepangrad overlooks the neighboring Bišće karstic plain and is also a cozy hiking option. The role of the Medieval Herzog (ger. duke) was so essential that it subsequently gave the name to the entire region of Herzegovina (ger. dukedom).
The first historic source mentioning not Mostar but its two fortified towers guarding the bridge is dated to 1452. In the following period, the Ottoman Empire laid the foundations for the urban development of Mostar. During the four centuries of Ottoman rule, Mostar rose as the second most developed trading and merchant center in the Bosnian Eyalet. Therefore, the UNESCO site of the present Mostar Old Town has a specific Oriental, Islamic style.
The Austro-Hungarian and Yugoslav periods of rule have left their stamp on the city too. Bringing different groups of people into the city and merging them made Mostar a very desirable place for living. The logical result was blooming development in art, culture, industry, sport, music and science.
Mostar Gymnasium built in the specific Pseudo-Moorish style with exterior ornamentation inspired by the Alhambra Palace. Operational ever since 1893, it highly resembles Sarajevo City Hall. The gymnasium was originally named after one of the most prominent poets from Bosnia and Herzegovina, a local Mostarian Aleksa Šantić, and many distinguished cultural workers attended it. The school sits on Boulevard street, the one which nowadays symbolically separates Mostar into two parts, Croatian and Bosniak, and it separated the two territories during the war. But it serves as the only high school attended by students from both sides of the city itself. In addition to that, United World College Mostar operates within the school building as of 2006 too.
Bosnia is the destination that provides the most for the price you pay. The city of Mostar will not leave you broke. Local cuisine is generally less expensive compared to popular coastal destinations (such as Kotor, Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar). For a traditional kind of meal-for-one, you will generally pay no more than 8,5 € in the center of the touristic zone.
The aforementioned UNESCO site of the Mostar Old Town provides multiple choices in regards to restaurants offering tasty traditional food. Most of the old craft workshops – that would have been organized in the system of guilds – have been converted into various kinds of restaurants and souvenir shops. The Old Town of Mostar will not let you stay hungry, thirsty, or dessert deprived! Sweet traditional cakes, such as baklava, tufahija and, hurmašica will help you to recharge your batteries for not more than 1,5 €, before continuing to explore the idyllic cobbled streets of Mostar.
Accommodation opportunities in Mostar are rated from budget-friendly options such as Hostels towards four or five-star Hotels like Eden and Mepas which are also very affordable.
Mostar’s Old Town is full of options when it comes to restaurants and places offering traditional dishes. From savoury dishes to desserts to juices. Amongst many other restaurants Šadrvan, situated 10 m far from the Old Bridge, offer a traditional setting with a tranquil garden.
Given its importance and symbolic power as an exceptional and universal symbol of the coexistence of communities from diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds as well as its “Outstanding Universal Value” the historical center of Mostar was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List one year after its reconstruction in 2004.
Being an outstanding example of a multicultural urban settlement, the historic town of Mostar was the first location from Bosnia to be recognized as a World Heritage Site. The Old Bridge currently stands as the most recognizable monument in the country and as a trademark of the entire city. The current city’s name, Mostar, was mentioned for the first time in 1474 and derives from the bridge itself: “mostari” – the bridge keepers.
In fact, a huge number of those who’ve visited Bosnia admitted that it was seeing a video or photo of the Old Bridge (bos. Stari most) that triggered them to step out of their comfort zone and travel to a new off-the-beaten-path destination.
The Old Bridge spanning the Neretva river connected two riverbanks again in July 2004. For 427 years Mimar Hajrudin’s masterpiece represented the strongest symbol of the Mostarian and wider Herzegovinian pride. Therefore, the reconstruction that took place in the aftermath of the war was never questioned and it was extremely important to build an even “older bridge” than Hajrudin’s one was.
Mostar’s surroundings abound with various locations suitable for different kinds of outdoor activities. Regardless of level of athleticism and physical fitness, Mostar’s nature does offer something for everybody.
At Fortica hill, which is a part of Velež mountain, there is the Adventure Park which boasts such diverse activities as zip line, rock climbing, abseil (Rappel), via ferrata, mountain biking, and mountain safari.
Hiking trails at the mountains of Velež, Čvrsnica, Čabulja and Prenj are numerous, with different levels of intensity. For those who prefer an easy hike, Hum hill or Mostarska bijela are great opportunities.
The mountain plateau of Podveležje is just 20-30 min of easy hike from the center of the city. Herzegovinian karst is full of breathtaking sceneries and will meet everybody’s personal requirements.
Mostar is an example where every belligerent fought against each other at some moment of the war. Those who witness the beauty of the Old Bridge could hardly guess that what they see is the authentic replica of the original one erected in 1566. Locals made a very original point once the rebuilt bridge was unveiled: “We’ve made an older bridge than the “Old” one used to be”.
Mostar suffered greatly during the war period (1992 – 1995). The fact that it was the most ethnically diverse city in all of Yugoslavia brought Mostarians to a moment of total division under the new violent reality. Front lines, between the Croatian Defense Council and the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, were established in the middle of the urban city area.
War scars are still visible to a serious extent, mainly in what is known as Mostar’s Eastern bank. Once there, visitors will be in a position to hear about the art of survival in almost unbearable conditions. Learn how life looked like when characterised by shelling, sniping, hunger, curfews, but also with mutual support, care, and empathy. By embracing uncertainty, locals developed hope and faith for a better tomorrow.
The war period brought serious tribulation to all of the Mostar citizens. Especially during the conflict between Bosnian and Croatian forces, the worst kind of urban warfare was set up in the middle of the city. Neighborhood streets were turned into frontlines and freedom of travel was soon determined by the sniping activities and the other forms of artillery shelling.
Wartime left its significant scars, and, despite the excessive restorations, a serious number of ruined and abandoned sites are scattered all around the city and surroundings of Mostar.
A rich history in Mostar is still very obvious in the architecture. On surrounding hills, we are still able to find Austro-Hungarian fortresses and towers from the late 19th century, as well as Italian bunkers from the WWII period. Leftovers of the formerly developed Mostar military and civilian industry were either demolished during the war or subsequently dilapidated in the aftermath of the war.
Sites such as the abandoned aircraft hangar, Soko aeronautical industry, Tobacco Factory Mostar, infamous “Sniper tower”, Razvitak Shopping Mall, “South camp” military barracks, and other former devastated residential buildings will provide much-needed insight into the (in)glorious past of Mostar.
Numerous buildings still stand demolished, especially at the eastern city bank and alongside Boulevard street, the war dividing line between warring sides. In the photo, we see the present condition of the University library building, situated next to the renovated Mostar gymnasium.
Since the Old Bridge is one of the most iconic sites in the Balkans, and generally the trademark of the city and entire Herzegovina region, you wouldn’t think that anybody plunges off its ledge daily… but they do.
Members of the local Bridge Divers’ Club “Mostari”, in a centuries-old tradition, dive 24m into the ice-cold Neretva. Legend has it that the local boys and men were trying to impress the girls and women, therefore this activity turned into a famous tradition. The first recorded occurrence of somebody performing the bridge jump or dive is dating back to 1664.
Aiming to improve the tourist offer, the local community inaugurated a formal annual diving competition back in 1968 and it has been held every year since at the end of July. Back in the 9-year period of “absence” of the bridge, competition did not lack. Dives/jumps were organized from a mounted platform at the remnants of the Old Bridge.
Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series are being organized in Mostar since 2015. and are slowly turning into a separate popular tradition apart from the already existing one. For adrenaline rush seekers, divers’ club members provide the required training to take a jump.
Divers/Jumpers from a local club “Mostari” continue their centuries-old tradition thanks to tips. The tariff depends on the season, type of jump, frequency of the tourists willing to contribute etc. Usually, younger members will approach you and kindly ask you for a symbolic contribution to a performance that is praiseworthy.
The cemetery complex commemorates 810 fallen WWII partisan soldiers from Mostar, who gave their lives for freedom against Axis German and Ustaše forces. The sprawling stone memorial was designed by one of the most distinguished Yugoslav architects Bogdan Bogdanović who was already well known for his works inspired by the National Liberation War (WWII). The strange boneyard was designed in rows, like a paddy terrace, and the tombstones are shaped like puzzle pieces.
It took five years to finish works and the place was opened by none other than president Josip Broz Tito himself. A cemetery complex is purposely emphasized in this list since it represents the paradigm of the present national relations in Mostar which is an unofficially divided city on eastern (Bosniak) and western (Croatian) sections. The memorial complex has been vandalized many times in the aftermath of the war, but it was thoroughly renovated three years ago.
Once here, visitors will understand why freedom isn’t taken for granted in Mostar, and how the lessons from WWII had to be relearned half a century later.
Located in the western part of the city, the Partisan memorial cemetery is deliberately founded on a higher elevation to express the symbolic meaning of the role of those who died during WWII – to overlook and defend the values of antifascism they died for.